The Experimental Station and Star Farm Chicago plan to deliver over 250 boxes of groceries to South Side residents, part of an ongoing mutual aid effort to help those affected by the temporary closure of the 61st Street Farmers Market.
The Market Box Initiative delivers boxes containing produce, eggs and bread from Star Farm Chicago, a regular market vendor based in Back of the Yards. Under the program, supporters purchase a box on behalf of someone else. Anyone can sign up for one, though Black, low-income, and Woodlawn residents are prioritized.
"We were frustrated by the disparities in access highlighted by COVID-19, and wanted to act quickly to ensure that our neighbors were able to obtain good, local food," said Wendy Zeldin, the 61st Street Farmers Market manager. "Additionally, we wanted to secure immediate funding for our small farmers, to subsidize local infrastructure that so many depend on. A crew of us at Experimental Station felt mutual aid was the best solution and crafted this initiative collectively."
Zeldin said that 262.5 boxes have been sponsored to date; Star Farm will deliver the first 68 of those this week.
Through the 61st Street market, the Experimental Station has long been at the forefront of expanding food access to low-income communities. In 2009, it piloted the state’s first Link Match program, which allows people on food stamps to double the value of their benefits if they purchase eligible foods at the market. As farmers markets nationwide have closed down because of the pandemic, it’s not only left LINK users unable to access fresh local food with their benefits — it’s also taken away one of the ways they can use those benefits to buy food more economically.
The new initiative will continue for the foreseeable future. “We are still very much encouraging donations, as we'd like to extend this initiative for weeks to come,” said Zeldin. “Even when the market returns, it could still be an excellent way of lessening risk for larger families, folks who are immunocompromised, shoppers of advanced age, etc.”
Zeldin added that the market is coming back “sooner than later,” and is looking for volunteers to help maintain best public health practices. Anyone interested can sign up at experimentalstation.org/get-involved.